…but they’re not optimistic
Since February 2014, the Russian military has been taking steps to secure portions of eastern Ukraine; forces successfully annexed the Crimea, and Russian separatists in Ukraine have continued their attacks. Nations including the United States have advocated for providing Ukrainians with the means to defend themselves—that means tanks, weapons, and training—but Russian officials claim that such a move would constitute a threat to national security.
The situation is quickly devolving, but world leaders are still holding out a sliver of hope that a compromise can be reached. At the Munich Security Conference this past weekend, Vice President Joe Biden met with European leaders to address continuing Russian aggression in Ukraine.
Biden met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko earlier Saturday to discuss the situation in Ukraine.
“We must judge … any future agreement with Russia by the actions Russia takes on the ground, not by the paper they sign,” Biden said. “Given Russia’s recent history, we need to judge it by its deeds, not its words. Don’t tell us, show us, President Putin. Too many times President Putin has promised peace and delivered tanks, troops, and weapons.”
While he’s echoing much of what White House press secretary Josh Earnest has been saying during recent daily press briefings, neither Biden nor President Barack Obama has weighed in directly this week since tensions escalated.
He would not discuss the possibility of U.S. ground troops in the region, but re-asserted the Ukrainian people’s right to defend themselves.
“We will continue providing Ukraine with security assistance, not to encourage war, but to allow Ukraine to defend itself,” he said. “Let me be clear: We do not believe that there is a military solution in Ukraine. Let me be equally clear: We do not believe Russia has the right to do what they’re doing.”
Merkel and other Euro leaders can summit to their heart’s content, but it won’t change the fact that any peace deal worth discussing will have to cut through the he said-she said game Russia is playing as a way of deflecting criticism away from the separatists.
Officially, Russia continues to deny sending its soldiers into Ukrainian territory, although evidence from Western satellites and eyewitnesses suggests otherwise. In a particularly dramatic display that he said disproves Russia’s claims, Poroshenko held aloft several red passports that he said came from Russian soldiers fighting on Ukrainian soil. He plaintively asked how much “evidence does the world still need to recognize the obvious fact, there is foreign military equipment, Russian military coaches and regular troops” operating in Ukraine.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in turn accused the West of supporting a government in Kiev that he said came to power via a “coup d’etat” as well as anti-Russian and xenophobic paramilitaries.
“Through every step, as the crisis has developed, our American colleagues and the [European Union] under their influence have tried to escalate the situation,” Lavrov said. But few in the audience bought his claims that Russia is not fostering violence in eastern Ukraine. They peppered him with skeptical questions, and Lavrov at one point looked wearily at his wristwatch.
Unrest in the eastern European states doesn’t stop in Ukraine. Recently Cyprus agreed to host Russian naval and aviation bases as part of an old defense agreement; in addition, Cyprus and Greece have both expressed objections to further sanctions against Russia, arguing that sanctions would deepen the rift between Russia and the European Union.
Foreign policy analysts remain unsure about Putin’s end goals, but leaders of some European nations are making an effort to put the rest of the world on alert:
Finnish President Sauli Niinisto summed up the consensus by saying: “I’m not really sure if anybody’s fully aware of what he’s after.” He said the Kremlin’s goal in Ukraine is “to keep Ukraine unstable and waiting maybe a possibility if something opens to do something new.”
A worst-case scenario was sketched by President Dalia Grybauskaite of Lithuania, one of the three Baltic Sea states that broke free of the Soviet Union at the end of the Cold War. Failure to stand up to Russia now would whet Putin’s territorial appetite, she said: “After Ukraine, we will be next.”
If this round of talks fails, the United States and Europe will likely attempt to agree upon another round of sanctions, and arms transfers.
Featured Image via BBC NewsDONATE
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